What society condones affects future
The newspapers continue to cover stories and questions concerning Arkansas’s journey into the unknown area of marijuana availability for pain relief. It appears there are numerous areas to be clarified before the many forms of the drug are actually available. Only after these areas are resolved will we begin to see the real questions about medical use of the drug develop in the workplace. Having watched it affect the lives of many of the people I worked with, it is difficult for me not to see it as a close cousin to our problem with other pain relieving agents, the opioid family of drugs.
A Princeton University economist named Alan Krueger recently released the results of a 15-year study he completed which tied the use of opioid prescriptions to American men’s participation in the workforce. He reported that nearly half of men in their prime worker age that are not in the workforce take prescription painkillers daily. The causes of this trend can be questioned depending on where you stand on the issue. The effect on your own workplace experience certainly affects your view on the whole issue of pain control drugs whether marijuana or opioids or homemade methamphetamine. The study apparently doesn’t solve the question of which came first, the drug or the absence from work.
My personal experience in the effects of supervising employees who used marijuana illegally tells me it is not far from the (maybe) excessive use of marijuana related to the likelihood of an industrial accident. It is not recorded for anyone’s study but seeing employees go from the “pleasure or recreational” use of marijuana to the use of opioids after a serious accident like the loss of a finger or hand occurred on my watch. It is difficult to measure the actual outcome of these accidents because the tragic effects last for years. Losing a finger or a hand or other permanent injuries are bad enough, but becoming addicted to the painkiller during the rehabilitation stage is even more tragic. It is not fun visiting these employees months later and realizing some are still dealing with the emotional aspects of the loss plus the additional problem with painkillers.
The people who voted for marijuana availability for medicinal purpose believe in what they supported and that is probably good. What society must deal with exceeds the goal originally established because the next step in the process is legalizing recreational use in Arkansas. One can argue that the use of marijuana will ease the demands for opioids in some illness situations. Hopefully that is true. However, having observed the use of morphine in February to disguise the pain associated with dying, it seems to me we are simply trading one problem for another. Whether one believes that marijuana can become addictive is a major factor in discussion concerning the future of the drug for any use. Young users of the smoking form, illegal where they lived but generally accepted by society, argue it is simply a fun drug. The argument could perhaps have been used by the Oriental societies who relied on opium years ago. So much of the dependency on any drug is tied to social acceptance and individual emotional dependency that no single answer covers every case. However, I would offer that questions about what is acceptable in the workplace, prescription or not, will have a major impact on the ability of companies to discipline employees using the drug.
The studies which found the heavy use of prescription approved opioids keeping males from the work force may be on early indication of a condition society might be creating for itself. We can never settle the chicken or egg question and may be allowing ourselves to be led down a slippery slope desiring to ease the pain of the ill while setting ourselves and society up for a long-range decline in mental health issues. It was fairly easy to recognize an employee was intoxicated with alcohol, but more difficult to recognize the effects of marijuana when I was working. What prompts people to resort to total dependence on any mind-altering drug varies from individual to individual and circumstance to circumstance. The use of homemade liquor or meth can be just as deadly in the hands of those unable to control themselves or their circumstances as any legal form.
What society chooses to condone and advertise determines the future of any product or the future of society itself.
Editor’s note: Leo Lynch, an award-winning columnist, is a native of Benton County and has deep roots in northwest Arkansas. He is a retired industrial engineer and former Justice of the Peace.